NJ 101.5 report has lawmakers asking: Are crime victims being cheated?
The New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office costs almost tripled between 2014 and 2016 — but payouts made to victims of crime in New Jersey have decreased by more than $1.5 million during the same timeframe.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio — in a response to a New Jersey 101.5 report revealing the declining payments and skyrocketing costs — is voicing concern about the situation.
“I’m calling on the chairwoman of the Law and Public Safety Committee in the Senate to have hearings. Let’s find out exactly what’s going on,” he said. “The bureaucracy seems to be growing. That’s well fed, and yet the numbers that are being paid out to these victims is going down, so certainly that’s a big area of concern — a big red flag goes out.”
Pennacchio said we need to get answers to a few simple questions.
“Why is it that the victims seem to be getting less money, and yet the bureaucracy, the people in charge of administering this program, their budget has doubled, from one-point-something to 3 million dollars?”
Pennacchio said he’s conducted an initial review and discovered the New Jersey Victims of Crime Compensation Office was going to be overseen by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, but an executive order was never carried out, so the VCCO instead remains under the control over the goveqrnor's office via the Department of Treasury.
He said that situation's confusing — and we need to find out “who exactly is responsible for this."
Pennacchio said the situation is disturbing because VCCO operating expenses dramatically increased between 2014 and 2016 for no apparent reason.
“And yet the people that are supposed to be getting the money, my understanding is within one year they’ve actually gotten $1 million less. What’s going on here?" Pennacchio said.
He added “nobody wants to finger-point, we just want to make sure the money is going to the people that need it the most — not the hungry monster called the bureaucracy.”
Pennacchio has written a letter to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Linda Greenstein, formally requesting a hearing.
Greenstein told New Jersey 101.5 she wants to get more information and look at the situation very carefully.
Last week, a spokesperson for VCCO declined a request to be interviewed, but she did indicate the number of VCCO employees, and their salaries has remained stable, even though it appears they’ve been rising.
In an emailed response she indicated “VCCO is in the process of updating previous annual reports to make uniform the way in which salaries are presented. In addition, claim payouts presented for fiscal years preceding FY 2016 are being restructured to reflect the way in which the FY 2016 and forward figures are presented.”
When the spokesperson was asked to clarify this statement and explain it in more detail, she did not respond.